By Jacob Dubé
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)’s budget for student referendums has been called into question by members of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU). Some executives think that the CFS doesn’t intend for petitions for student referendums to go through at all, despite seven ongoing petitions to defederate.
The CFS is the largest national student organization, representing over 650,000 students from approximately 80 college and university undergraduate and graduate student unions across Canada. Last fiscal year, the RSU paid a total of $546,999.71 for membership to the CFS and CFS-Ontario.
The RSU has been a member of the CFS since 1982.
Last year, the CFS budgeted $80,000 but spent $90,302.79 for membership drives and referendums. A referendum is a widespread vote for a student union’s membership.
Daniel Lis, RSU vice-president education, deals with education-related matters like national and provincial advocacy. According to Lis, this funding goes towards campaigning for certification votes and against decertification votes. Certification votes are for student unions that want to join the CFS, and decertification votes are for unions that want to leave.
For these student-wide referendums to happen, a petition signed by 15 per cent of the student population of a college or university student union must be officially submitted to the CFS and approved before they can decertify.
According to RSU vice-president student life & events Lauren Emberson, at the CFS semi-annual general meeting this past June, CFS officials said that the majority of the money budgeted for referendums went towards just one referendum for certification. CFS treasurer Peyton Veitch, did not confirm this allocation of funds in time for publication.
This year, they’ve also budgeted $80,000–which is the same amount budgeted last year.
Lis said he believes the limited funding for referendums indicates that the CFS has no interest in following through with the seven ongoing petitions to decertify. “If there were seven that they were expecting, proportionally it would be seven times more than what they’ve currently placed in the budget,” Lis said.
There was an amendment to the motion in June that would change the referendum budget from $80,000 to $400,000 to match the amount of petitions, but it was struck down in the meeting during a budget approval.
According to an email from Veitch sent to The Eye, the budget is just a “framework” for the year and it can be changed if any referendums come up.
“The Federation remains committed to organizing referendums for members to join or leave in accordance with our bylaws. The budget provides a framework for any given year but we wouldn’t limit a members’ right to a referendum because of the [Membership and Drives Referendums] budget,” Veitch said.
In 2016, the RSU released a report on their relationship with the CFS. It highlighted some issues regarding the difficulties student unions have had when attempting to leave the CFS, including strict rules about petitions as well as a high amount of lawsuits brought against the unions by the CFS.
“When student unions attempt to leave the CFS, litigation is almost always involved,” the RSU report said.
Last year, a group of Ryerson students started a petition to leave the CFS, titled RU Aware. Lis said the group wasn’t able to gather 15 per cent of students’ signatures and the numbers of signatures has decreased since some students graduated.